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At once a paean to the most beneficial vestige of Social Darwinism and a gosh-darn catchy tune for kiddos, the song “Having Fun Isn’t Hard [When You’ve Got A Library Card] is a masterful tapestry of literary allusions that has nevertheless escaped authoritative theoretical deconstruction…until now. But it’s Library Card Sign-Up Month, so the day has come. I present, without further ado, the annotated stanzas of this modern-day hymn to the miracle of multimedia.

Everyone: [1] Having fun isn't hard,
When you've got a library card.
Having fun isn't hard,
When you've got a library card. [2]

[1] While the use of a chorus, separate from the dramatic action, declined after the fifth century BC, the homogenous voice of the collective characters nevertheless proves useful to modern poets wishing to express a universal feeling or comment—here, the excellence of a local athenaeum.

[2] Dispensing with the conventional invocation of the muses, the poem instead begins with a two-line refrain, repeated once, to establish a modified strophic form.

Ms. Turner: [3] Come on inside,
We've got everything you need.
There's plenty to do,
Or you can just sit and read.

[3] The name Ms. Turner is an allusion to the activity of lifting and moving a page from recto to verso, commonly known as “turning the page.”

Muffy: This book explains
How to make paper planes. [4]
Arthur: This contour map
Can show you mountain range terrains. [5]

[4] Though the technical term is aerogami, a portmanteau of “aero” (air) and “gami” from the Japanese practice of paper-folding known as origami (interestingly, paper plane folding in Japan is known as kamihikoki), the scansion of the relative clause “how to make paper planes” more appropriately suits the metrical scheme of the poem.

[5] The redundant phrasing of “mountain range terrains” is here necessary for purposes of rhyme.

Brain: Fly to the moon,
Explore the ocean floor. [6]
Buster: Find out which one's the tiller,
And which one is the oar. [7]

[6] To complete both in a single voyage would, of course, be impossible; Brain is speaking allusively (cf. Verne, Jules: De la Terre à La Lune and Vingt Mille Lieues sous les mers).

[7] Tillers and oars are easily distinguished (the former is attached to the body of the craft, the latter a free tool for paddling), but the rhyme scheme must be preserved.

Fern: Here's "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" [8]
And "Half Magic".
Timmy: "Hop on Pop".
Tommy: And "Fox in Socks". [9]
George: And books on doing card tricks!
Everyone: Ooooooh!

[8] It is telling that the first introduction of meta-textuality includes books with relatively ordinary children plunged into elements of the fantastic; Dahl’s wonderworld of sweets and Eager’s faulty wish-granting coin are subtle mises en abymes of the metaphorical adventures our narrators promise potential library patrons when they will have borrowed books.

[9] The titles of Dr. Seuss provide not only a cultural touchstone for most readers but also a neat internal rhyme (this stanza being the first to deviate metrically)

Having fun isn't hard,
When you've got a library card.
Ms. Turner: That's right!
Everyone: Having fun isn't hard,
When you've got a library card.

Francine: Books on baseball,
Hockey and soccer
Mr. Ratburn: And even how to build yourself
A cool doorknocker. [10]

[10] To date, no reliable equivalent to Ratburn’s putative manual of doorknocker-building has been located; the text he to which he alludes is presumed lost, though some critics have argued that its inclusion is merely to sate the difficult B rhyme of “soccer” in the first part of the stanza.

Arthur: I could stay in this place
For hours and hours.
Binky: I like books with pictures
Of lotsa pretty flowers...
Being crushed by a giant pterodactyl. [11]

[11] An effective caesura: the reader’s expectations are first subverted when tough-talking Binky expresses an affinity for the conventionally feminine topic of botany, and then once again at the subsequent modifying paleontological phrase.

Arthur: Jules Verne, HG Wells,
And Ray Bradbury: [12]
Francine: You can take 'em home
So you don't have to
Read 'em in a hurry. [13]

[12] Again, references to writers thematically linked to otherworldly portals dovetails with the overall message of the song (see note [8], above)

[13] The pronoun “’em” has long been a source of scholarly debate. Does Francine mean that a library patron may literally withdraw the authors themselves, or is she employing the names of authors as a metonym for copies of their published works?

Everyone: Having fun isn't hard,
When you've got a library card.
Having fun isn't hard,
When you've got a library card. Having fun!

Everyone: Having fun isn't hard,
When you've got a library card.
Having fun isn't hard,
When you've got a library card.

Prunella: Paintings by Leonardo,
Rembrandt and Picasso. [14]
Mr. Haney: Confidentially, I'm reading...
Everyone: ..."Go, Dog, Go"! [15]

[14] An interesting choice: referring to one artist by his given name and to the others only by surname. “Da Vinci” would have been equally metrically suitable in the ABCB scheme, and arguably more immediately recognizable.

[15] The irony here is that Mr. Haney (perhaps named in allusion to Irish poet Seamus Heaney) is reading an elementary-level literary étude.

Buster: There's "The Giving Tree" and "Jumanji"
And "Where the Wild Things Are." [16]
D.W.: And a book on why you shouldn't
Keep your brother in a jar. [17]
Arthur: Let me out!

[16] The references continue to build and strengthen the theme of escape, but here with more complex ramifications: each of these three books reflects the potentially dire consequences of imaginative escapism.

[17] Scholars of the corpus vasorum antiquorum have yet to locate a contraventional text on the topic of fraternal ensconcement (see note [10], above). Some have suggested D.W. refers instead to a metaphorical “jar,” (perhaps a funerary lekythos or urn), but the evidence is tenuous at best.

All the thoughts and dreams of people
Throughout history
And all you need's this little card
To borrow 'em for free! [18]
Everyone: Yeah!

[18] A powerful use of metonym, suggesting that the deeply human and yet inherently intangible experiences of the mental landscape may be withdrawn “for free.” The diminutive “little card” at once contrasts with the vastness of potential knowledge and recalls the libellum (“little book”) of Catullus 1.1.

Having fun isn't hard,
When you've got a library card.
Having fun isn't hard,
When you've got a library card.

D.W.: There's story time
And lessons on how to use computers,
But there can't be any classes
On how to make me cuter. [19]

[19] As a child, D.W. is likely not familiar with the works of medieval surgeon Abu al-Qasim Khalaf ibn al-Abbas Al-Zahrawi, whose treatises included proto-cosmological texts; though the Kitab al-Tasrif is not, strictly speaking, a “class,” it could still prove useful in the subject of “how to make [her] cuter.”

Francine: Puppet shows and movies,
The cool things never end. [20]
Ms. Turner: And don't forget,
The Dewey Decimal System is your friend.
D.W.: Who's Dewey? [21]

[20] Another kind of litotic irony: the poem, itself a “cool thing,” is now drawing to an end.

[21] D.W. expresses ignorance of Dewey (Melvil Dewey, 1851-1931), and yet she correctly assumes “Dewey” to refer to a person, despite its employ in the line previous as a modifier to an inhuman “system.” Therefore, it is not unreasonable to surmise that D.W. is acting as a kind of interlocutor, posing a rhetorical question she well knows (or suspects) the answer to as a way to prompt curiosity towards the selfsame subject in the mind of the reader.

Everyone: And don't forget,
The Dewey Decimal System is your friend.
D.W.: Who's Dewey? [22]

Everyone: 1! 2! 3!
Having fun isn't hard,
When you've got a library card.
D.W.: Who's Dewey? [23]

Everyone: Having fun isn't hard,
When you've got a library card.
Having fun isn't hard,
When you've got a library card.
D.W.: Who's Dewey? [24]

Everyone: Having fun isn't hard,
When you've got a library card.
Having fun!

D.W.: Who is Dewey?!? [25]

[22]-[24] The persistence of D.W.’s question, now as a strophe-breaking addendum to the refrain, strengthens the argument for its significance as a kind of inverted mihi causas memora: rather than demand the answers from an unreachable muse, she questions the reader/viewer directly—a decidedly postmodern technique.

[25] That the poem ends not with a declaration, but with a question, should not be overlooked. Rather than a static, declarative end, the question (Who is Dewey?) is one that can only be answered with research (presumably at a library), thereby succinctly and elegantly marrying the argumentative content of this text to its form.


To come: A disucssion of semantics, allusion, and reptition in "Jekyll Jekyll Hyde Hyde Hyde Jekyll Jekyll"


Blair Thornburgh's picture

Blair Thornburgh

Blair Thornburgh is an editor at Quirk Books. A native Philadelphienne and apparent devotée of gendered demonyms, she makes a mean plate of scrambled eggs, a much friendlier cup of coffee, and would love to talk to you about (or in) multiple dead languages. Hwæt!